Elections Analysis: Energy and Environment

November 6, 2014

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In the midst of major transformations in energy and environment policy, including a surge in energy production that has put the U.S. in the running to become the largest producer of oil and gas in the world, and the progression of the Obama Administration’s Climate Change Action Plan to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants, the midterm election could significantly alter the course of the existing White House agenda.

Following the midterm elections, which expanded the Republican majority in the House and the Senate, energy and environment-related committees in both chambers will undergo major leadership changes, pushing Republican agenda priorities to the forefront.

For the House Energy and Commerce Committee both Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Vice Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) were reelected and are expected to continue in leadership. Upon his retirement, Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) will leave that top Democratic seat vacant.

In addition, the House Natural Resources Committee will need to select a new committee head following the retirement of Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.). It is anticipated that the Natural Resources Ranking Member spot will become available when the current ranking member, Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), takes the top Democratic position on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Some possible hopefuls for the position of Ranking Member include Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), and Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-A.S.).  It is speculated that while Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) is currently running to be the top Democrat of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he could be given the Natural Resources seat in the event he loses.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is currently led by Chair Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowsi (R-Alaska). At this time the election results are still pending for Louisiana and Alaska. With Republicans now in the Senate majority, if Sen. Landrieu is reelected she will no longer serve as Chairwoman and Ranking Member Murkowski would be next in line to assume the position of Chair starting in 2015.

Lastly, Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was not listed on the ballot on Tuesday and therefore is not expected to return after completing her term. While Ranking Member David Vitter (R-La.) did win his race for reelection, and is currently the top Republican on the committee, he may not become the next Senate Environment Chair. Due to Senate Republican term limit and seniority rules, Ranking Member Vitter is likely to be considered for Chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, but the committee selection process is not yet underway. Instead, next year Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) could possibly take the helm as the Senate Environment Committee Chair, a position he held from 2003 to 2007.

In Sept., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) unveiled an energy package comprised of 13 bills, highlighting what Republicans will focus on in 2015. The energy package included their top three energy and environment- related priorities: reining in EPA carbon regulations, streamlining the Department of Energy’s approval process for LNG exports and approving the Keystone XL pipeline. These bills have already been voted on and passed by the House, but failed to pass the Senate. With a new majority and ability to gain a number of key chairmanships, Republicans are better positioned to control the energy and environment agenda and push their key priorities to votes in the Senate.

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